After a 2013 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick stood in front of his team with a simple message. “You can’t win until you keep from losing,” he told the team in the locker room after the loss. He continued, “Watch the games this weekend, there’s going to be a couple NFL, college, high school games where somebody is losing the game rather than winning it.”
Another Belichick coaching pearl from his countless press conferences applies to this season as well. “Let your opponents make your mistake, take care of what you need to take care of, keep everything in play and not give it away.” Yet it’s the Patriots making the mistakes that are giving their opposition the chance to win.
So, if Belichick is acutely aware of what it takes to win games in the NFL, why do the New England Patriots keep losing these games that they should’ve won?
Two blocked punts in one season? Against a Belichick coached team? That had never happened before to a Patriots team under Belichick. The last time a New England team had two blocked punts in a season was 1993, under Parcells. Belichick was in his third season as the Browns coach.
There have been too many instances where the Patriots shoot themselves in the foot instead of playing fundamentally sound football and allowing their opponent to make the mistake. The pick-six was a ball that should have been caught. Regardless of the rest of the game, it was that play that decided the outcome.
Nelson Agholor had a chance to make it moot in overtime, but let a slant go through his hands while all he had to do was outrun a single high safety. Maybe he doesn’t score but he definitely is well into Dallas territory before going down.
Pre-game decisions come back to haunt Patriots
Decisions made even before the game had an impact on its outcome, too. Instead of calling up practice squad member DB Myles Bryant, the Patriots dressed an extra LB. Reserve linebackers Harvey Langi and Jahlani Tavi played a total of 31 snaps-on special teams. Neither saw a defensive snap. The Patriots dealt with injuries all game, losing linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Chase Winovich, and Ja’Whuan Bentley for stretches, as well as defensive backs Adrian Phillips and Jonathan Jones.
McCourty lamented the absences in the secondary and chalked up CeeDee Lamb’s 24-yard gain on third and 25 to the injuries in the secondary. Maybe someone like Bryant or JoeJuan Williams makes a difference, maybe they don’t. But if a team captain is verbalizing having special teamer Justin Bethel playing coverage snaps, maybe it’s worth criticizing.
The offensive line was shuffling all game long as well. After wondering for the last five weeks why Onwenu wasn’t playing right tackle and inserting Karras at left guard, it finally happened against Dallas. After Cajuste did his best revolving door impersonation on the strip-sack, the team finally put Onwenu in the game.
He stabilized the right side of the line even though Herron and Wynn would rotate due to performance throughout. The Pats already picked up Wynn’s fifth-year option, but his performance hasn’t been good enough to beat out the backup tackles. Maybe whenever Brown returns, he’ll return at left tackle and the offensive line will have found a stable grouping.
Perhaps Belichick has forgotten one of Sun Tzu’s teaching points in the Art of War; “opportunities multiply as they are seized…In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” For being an avid fan of the book, this lesson is the antithesis of the Patriots season thus far.
Special Teams not-so-special after all
The Patriots punted on 4th & 1 from their own 35 (after a catch by Meyers that should’ve warranted a second look AND the punt was blocked), 4th & 2 from the 50, 4th & 4 from their 46, and 4th & 3 from their 46 in overtime. Except for the blocked punt, the Cowboys would score points after each of those sequences. Not all fourth downs are created equal, but there was more than enough reason to go for one or two — or all three — of those.
The Patriots continue to be extremely cautious with Mac at quarterback. They had 90 seconds left in the first half to try to get into field goal range. Instead, a Damien Harris carry and two kneel-downs to get New England to halftime. Josh McDaniels told us earlier in the week he’s been hearing it from his wife for some of his play calls. Hopefully Mrs. McDaniels continues to be in his ear this week.
After only four completions over 20 yards the first five weeks of the season, Mac doubled that against the Cowboys on Sunday going 4-4 for 144 yards and 2 TDs. The throw to Hunter Henry for the touchdown, and the throw to Agholor on the corner route showed anticipation and understanding of route concepts against coverage. The time has come to take the training wheels off and let Mac cook.
There is something to be said about keeping from losing before being able to win, but there is a noticeable difference in playing the game to win versus playing the game not to lose. The Pats have been playing not to lose. That’s why they’re 0-3 in one-possession games. They already used their season pass for a moral victory against the Bucs. It’s time to start changing the number in the win column.
Odds and Ends from Sunday
Gunner Olszewski had a 23-yard punt return in the third quarter to set up the Pats. He got his only offensive snap of the night right after the return, being flagged for a false start.
The Patriots’ offensive line only allowed 7 pressures against the Cowboys. With no player being responsible for more than one.
David Andrews didn’t allow a single pressure.
The Patriots were 102-1 when leading at halftime in Gillette stadium before this season. They are 0-2 this year at Gillette when leading at half.
Meyers is slowly becoming a dependable tough catch guy. A few catches yesterday he made knowing he was going to get blasted. Hopefully, he can get a TD this week against the Jets.
Matt Judon was held without a sack but still led the Patriots with 6 pressures.
Christian Barmore and Kyle Van Noy were second on the team with three pressures apiece.
The Cowboys only scored 10 points on 4 trips into the red zone.
Mac was 7/7 for 100 yards and a touchdown at halftime. Impressive stat line but the lack of attempts was reflective of the discrepancy in play totals for the two teams. Dallas ran 82 plays to New England’s 50.
Mac Jones’ 71.1 completion percentage is the highest ever by a rookie in his first 6 career starts.
Jalen Mills: 6-8, 84 yards, 2 TDs
Jonathan Jones: 5-7, 73 yards
J.C. Jackson: 5-9, 67 yards
Devin McCourty: 3-5, 60 yards
Ja’Whaun Bentley: 4-4, 42 yards
Dont’a Hightower: 4-4, 40 yards, TD
Kyle Dugger: 4-4, 33 yards (1 INT that he wasn’t primary in coverage for)